Court Explains Standard for Individual Liability for a Hostile Work Environment Under the New York State Human Rights Law

In Maines et al v. Last Chance Funding, Inc. d/b/a The LCF Group et al, 2018 WL 4558408 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 25, 2018), the court clarified the standard for imposing liability on individual defendants under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), N.Y. Executive Law § 290 et seq.

The statute, explained the court,

provides for the imposition of liability on individual defendants under two of its provisions: §§ 296(1) and 296(6). “Individual liability under § 296(1) … is limited to individuals with ownership interest or supervisors, who themselves have the authority to hire and fire employees.” Craddock v. Little Flower Children & Family Servs. of New York, No. 12-CV-5062(JS)(GRB), 2016 WL 755631, at *14 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 25, 2016) (quoting Hubbard v. No Parking Today, Inc., No. 08-CV-7228, 2010 WL 3835034, at *10 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 22, 2010)). Section 296(6) of the NYSHRL attaches individual liability to “aiding and abetting” § 296(1)(a) violations.” Id. (quoting N.Y. Exec. Law § 296(6)). The Second Circuit has construed Section 296(6) to extend to a co-worker who “ ‘actually participate[ ] in the conduct giving rise to a discrimination claim’ … even though that co-worker lacked the authority to either hire or fire the plaintiff.

Here, plaintiffs’ proposed amended complaint “contains facts creating a reasonable inference that [two individuals] satisfy both prongs.” Specifically, with respect to section 296(1), the complaint alleges that both “were involved in the promotion, demotion, hiring, and firing of individuals.” The complaint, and emails it references, “specifically mention [them] as individuals involved in the termination of [plaintiff].”

As for the “aiding and abetting” section, the complaint “alleges that [one of the individuals] made some of the discriminatory remarks underlying the surviving hostile work environment and wrongful termination claims … and that [the other] was Director of Operations, and involved in personnel decisions which’s unequal application underlie the hostile work environment claims.” As such, held the court, the complaint “creates a plausible inference that [the two individuals] were supervisors with the authority to fire or hire, and that they actually participated in the relevant discrimination.”

For the same reasons, the court also held that the proposed complaint also sufficiently alleged individual liability under 42 U.S.C. 1981.

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